A large employer is using behavior-based principles to nudge behavior towards a health and safety culture, said She official Charlotte Sieberhagen.
She told Sheqafrica.com that the She team and their human resources (HR) colleagues are co-operating in applying Nudge principles to influence certain identified low-risk health and safety behaviour, by cost-effective methods.
People make many mistakes based on bias and small blunders, that are typically not corrected by health and safety management systems or peer pressure. “By knowing these biases and blunders, we can nudge people into making safe choices”, Sieberhagen said.
A Nudge is “any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behaviour in a predictable way, without prohibiting options or significantly changing their incentives”. The approach is credited to Prof Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and to Daniel Kahneman, an American psychologist.
The South African Sheq and HR team is applying it to billboards, toolbox talks, face to face conversations on shop floor visits, announcements, Sheq training, and BBS feedback. The approach goes ‘with the grain’ of decision making, potentially boosts situational awareness, engages a transient workforce, and is low cost.
Sieberhagen explained that Nudge is not a new solution, but a repackaging of some BBS principles in the last five years. “We achieved short-term, incremental changes during Nudge interventions.
“It applies more to single, once-off behaviours, such as a particular work procedure, rather than complex behaviour or decisions. The result is also depends on context, and it has a limited capacity to affect behavioural violations. Compliance is not enforced in this approach.”
Choice architecture describes the way in which decisions could be influenced by how choices are presented to influence the outcome positively.
Some habitual or ‘default’ safe behavior is supported, and some habitual unsafe behaviors are prompted to follow healthy and safe examples. It is aimed at changing behavior and attitudes without changing people’s underlying values.
Nudges towards safe behavior is often more effective than instructions or other forms of enforcement, said Sieberhagen.
The ten Nudge behaviour-based principles
The ten Nudge principles are; Anchoring, Availability, Representativeness, Optimism or Confidence, Loss Aversion, Defaults, Framing, Discounting, Cues or Prompts, and Social Norms. These are discussed below.
Anchor health and safety
People’s choices are affected by an initial reference point that could be recalled by phrases, sounds, memories, emotional states.
For example; ‘Would you be able to work without your eyes? Are you sure you are wearing the required eye protection? Will you be able to keep your family safe on the road? Did you check your car?’
Keep Sheq training relevant and available
People’s choices are affected by salience in memory. People avoided flights directly following terror attacks, then resumed again. Avoid posters with fear-evoking messages; don’t shock without explaining how to avoid harm.
Repeat training to keep it current in memory. Repeat Sheq messages. Remind people of high profile incidents. Demonstrate to employees how PPE, fall protection, and other systems protect them.
Represent health and safety
Decisions about likelihood are based on previous outcomes; ‘I always drive without a safety belt and I have never been caught, thus I will continue to get away with it.’
Remind people of accident and incident history. Link incidents to procedural or operational deviations, such as permit violations. Demonstrate that minor injuries and disasters could be a matter of random centimetres or seconds. Near misses are just as serious as disasters.
People over-estimate their personal risk immunity. They tend to think they are immune from harm. Remind people of serious incidents involving competent people.
An electrician was shocked to death. Just because we did not get hurt by deviating from procedure yesterday, does not mean they we are immune today.
There is risk in complacency, such as pilots under-estimating weather, and over-estimating their equipment, skill, and opportunity to avoid risk. Ensure adequate risk awareness and HIRA training for new employees.
Support loss aversion
People feel losses more than gains. A fine of R1000 is felt more deeply than a reward of R1000. Confirm the adverse consequences of poor practice, and the gain from good practice. The difference is double the cost of either.
Confirm status quo defaults
In the face of complex information that might confuse people there should be automatic or status quo or default options, supporting the safe choice.
Engineering uses the principle of a ‘dead man’s switch, as in high pressure cleaning equipment. Mandatory yearly medicals could be ensured by lock out if you don’t attend the medical examination.
Frame messages in positive terms
Choices people make can depend on how the information is presented; positive or negative. Emotive words can alter choices.
State what we want; ‘We wear PPE’, rather than what we do not want (‘Do not work without PPE’). Ask for safe days, not ‘LTI injury-free days.’ Ask employees to ‘work safely by using the correct tools’ not ‘Working with the incorrect tools will cause injury.”
Reveal the false ‘discount’ of uncertainty
People under-estimate current risks that may or may not cause harm in future. We all prefer immediate gains over uncertain future gains, for example smoking, drinking, and loud music, despite the risk of diseases in the future.
Work with this ‘discount’ tendency, by providing teal time feedback of exposure, for example, print out the percentage of hearing loss. Evoke the impacts of future impacts of current behaviour on the quality of life and family. Demonstrate the consequences, for example by using industrial theatre.
Let people experience ‘hearing loss’ or respiratory disease for 20 minutes, or loud noise for one minute (at levels causing only temporary hearing loss).
Cue and prompt Sheq behaviour
Cues or prompts can be used to raise situational awareness and to keep hazard awareness at the forefront of the brain. This can alter how people habitually make decisions.
Ask for spot risk assessments. Before a staircase, signpost the need to hold on to the handrail. Before you exit the control room a voice prompt; ‘Do you have a valid PTW?’ Are you wearing the required PPE?
Work with social norms and peer pressure
People’s decisions are altered by what they believe their peers find acceptable. Ask informal peer leaders in training to demonstrate good practice. Make Sheq trendy and valued.
Draw on the moral case of ‘It’s the right thing to do’. Communicate the healthy and safe behaviour of the majority.
• This post is an extract from a presentation by Charlotte Sieberhagen, titled ‘Applying Nudge principles to influence SHE related behaviours and the choices employees make’. The presentation is based on a referenced paper.
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